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US Could Use Secret Evidence Against Charity Suspected of Terrorist Ties - 2002-04-05


A federal judge in Chicago is refusing to rule out secret evidence presented by the U.S. government against a Muslim charity it suspects of terrorist ties. Last December, the government froze the assets of suburban-Chicago-based Global Relief Foundation, which denies any links to terrorism.

U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen says the federal government has met two tests required for the use of secret evidence that could jeopardize national security if made public. Government lawyers told the judge last month they want to present secret evidence as part of their efforts to keep the assets of the Global Relief Foundation frozen.

The judge says he has not seen the evidence yet, but says he might have to examine it to determine whether to admit it.

Federal officials raided Global Relief's offices in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview last December, removing documents, computers and other office equipment. Attorney Matthew Simmons says his client has not been charged with any crime, and has nothing to do with terrorism. He says without a charge or access to the items the government confiscated, it is difficult to work on a defense.

"This is a situation where not only to they tell us that the evidence against us is secret, but they stripped away from my client all evidence it had that showed what it really was doing," he said. "So they tied our hands behind our back and blindfolded us."

According to Mr. Simmons, this could be the first time the federal government has asked to use secret evidence against an American corporation since the anti-terrorism Patriot Act was signed into law last year. He says he might ask a higher court to prevent Judge Andersen from examining the evidence.

In his ruling, Judge Andersen said the government had met two guidelines for using secret evidence: that the evidence involve state secrets or acute national security concerns, and that the government had gone as far as it could in making the evidence public.

Federal lawyers filed numerous documents last month to support their efforts to keep Global Relief's assets frozen. Those included an allegation that a former personal secretary to Osama bin Laden had communicated with Global Relief offices in Bridgeview and Belgium during the 1990s. Mr. Simmons says he knows nothing about those communications.

The government is also trying to deport the founder of Global Relief, Rabih Haddad, for overstaying his visa. He was arrested in Michigan in December, and is currently in a federal jail in Chicago.